Mission of good health

Wide-eyed and silent under the sweltering Honduran sun, children waited with their parents in a line that stretched for blocks across the town of Santa Barbara, watching and listening as the doctors, most of them from Maryland, unpacked their supplies in front of the hospital.

"You never see these kids or babies crying here. They will wait for hours to see us," said Dr. Howard Hauptman, a rheumatologist in Nottingham. "I couldn't imagine going to an American pediatrician's office and seeing that."


Many of the Hondurans had walked for miles to see the American doctors, who were on a weeklong mission that ended this month to bring relief to one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

"When we arrived on a Sunday morning the lines wound down the street and out of sight," said Dr. Louise Moody, a physician at Secure Medical Care in Gaithersburg.


For the sixth year in a row, a mission that has grown to almost 60 doctors, nurses and other adult and student volunteers brought medical relief to Honduras during a trip from June 28 to July 6.

Organized by the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore, the group worked out of Santa Barbara in the northwest part of the Central American country this year to examine patients and train health care providers from the region.

"We would see probably 800 patients a day, patients lining up by the hundreds, coming early in the morning and waiting all day in the sun," Hauptman said.

Doctors were based at a hospital, a one-story concrete building with examining rooms lined up along an outdoor hallway, in the heart of the town.

"We worked in rooms 105 degrees," said Dr. Stanford Lam- berg, associate professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

With each specialist in a separate room, doctors addressed health problems ranging from cataracts to foot maladies. Lamberg, the first dermatologist to go on the mission, not only treated skin cancer but tried to make sure that patients' needs would continue to be met by training a local doctor to treat skin conditions that could be fatal if they went untended.

"He initially thought everything he was seeing was a fungal infection," Lamberg said of his Honduran counterpart. "By the end of the week, he was able to diagnose many things."

In past years, the mission could offer only short-term relief when it operated out of the small nearby mountain village of Atima, where doctors are scarce. This year, the medical team relocated to the larger town of Santa Barbara so that the Americans could leave behind their medical know-how and about $400,000 in donated supplies with the town's physicians.


While the mission was able to have a greater effect by being in the larger community, the volunteers who helped translate for the doctors missed the tight-knit community of Atima. This year, quartered two miles outside of Santa Barbara, volunteers had few opportunities to mingle with townspeople except while at work.

"We felt pretty secluded from the city and the population," said Pat Ercole, 20, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, who was making his fifth trip.

Frequently, many of the ailments from which Hondurans suffered were the result of the scarcity of medical expertise and paucity of supplies.

After being hit in the lip, a 12-year-old girl suffered a fever from an infection. Three days after Moody gave her antibiotics, the girl was chattering away and eating normally again.

"It was such a simple thing that in the United States it would never have gotten to that degree," Moody said.

While the American volunteers brought extensive medical expertise and supplies, some mission members felt that the Hondurans taught them a more important lesson: a sense of contentment.


"It's an unbelievable experience when you come from a system where we take [so much] for granted," Hauptman said.

For the record

A photograph in yesterday's metro sections that showed people in Santa Barbara, Honduras, waiting to see doctors from Maryland was taken by Stanford I. Lamberg. His name was omitted from the caption information.